Coastal Birds

My annual gull class visited the Coast from Cannon Beach to Gearhart. Stormy weather caused us to postpone the trip by a week. The weather was lovely the day of our trip, but nice weather, combined with the week’s delay, kept our gull total to a modest seven species.

California Gulls are among the most common species on the coast right now.

California Gull in flight, showing the extensive black in the primaries

Herring Gull

Herring Gull coming in for a landing

Short-billed Gulls frequent the Necanicum River Estuary in Gearhart. This bird was stamping their feet in the shallow water to stir up food items.

A stop at the Seaside Cove produced a large flock of Surfbirds.

Just a few Black Turnstones were mixed in with the Surfbirds.

The most unusual bird of the trip was this Long-tailed Duck at the Cannon Beach Settling Ponds. This is a young female, whose dark coloring blended in surprisingly well with the water’s surface.

We didn’t have much time to look for songbirds, but White-crowned Sparrows are always obliging.

Happy Autumn

Autumn at Last

After a very long dry summer, autumn has finally arrived. While we don’t get the extensive fall colors found in eastern forests, the red Poison Oak highlights the eyes on this Spotted Towhee.

This very ragged Bushtit was found at Wapato Lake NWR, which has finally opened up to birders after a long wait. The refuge will be closed to non-hunters from December-February, but should offer some great birding when it is open.

American Pipits are common migrants this time of year on mudflats and other open habitats.

Male American Kestrel

This American Crow was actively fishing in a tide pool along the Columbia River. I don’t normally think of crows as fish-eaters, but they take advantage of whatever food source is available.

There are still a few American White Pelicans around. They will be gone soon.

Brush Rabbit, blending in with the fall colors

Pacific Tree Frog on a maple leaf. These frogs are very common, but they seldom perch out in the open.

This Black-tailed Deer was just off the path at Cooper Mountain Nature Park.

Happy Autumn

Invertebrates

When the birding is slow, take some time to study the local insects. While identifying some of these creatures makes immature gull ID look easy, some species are big and flashy enough to be accessible. Here are a few creatures from my recent outings, along with my best attempts at identification. Let me know if you find any errors.

Woodland Skipper is one of the most abundant butterfly species in the Pacific NW this time of year.

I believe this is an Orange Sulphur. Sulphurs are very active and seldom perch with their wings open, so getting a good look is extremely difficult.

Cabbage White is another common species.

Carolina Grasshoppers are very plain when at rest, but have a bold black and yellow pattern on their wings when in flight.

Dragonflies come in a great variety of colors and are an increasingly popular target among wildlife watchers. The challenge, of course, is finding one willing to sit still long enough to give you a good look. This is a female Blue Dasher.

I love the turquoise and chestnut colors of this Blue-eyed Darner.

I still prefer birds and herps, but there are a lot of other beautiful creatures out there. As I often say, there is always something to see.

Happy Autumn

Wetlands in the Summer

In mid to late summer, when conditions are very hot and dry in Oregon, most of the wildlife activity is found near wetlands, at least until they dry up as well. Here are a few images from various wetlands in the Portland area this summer.

A Purple Martin strafes an American Kestrel at Tualatin River NWR
Barn Swallow about to nab an insect off the water’s surface
Anna’s Hummingbird feeding on a cedar at Fernhill Wetlands
Two Northern River Otters at Koll Center Wetlands
This otter was almost too close for my camera to focus
Several young Soras put on a nice show at Commonwealth Lake Park
Snacking on a snail
Black Phoebe with a damselfly at Fernhill Wetlands
I always love seeing Brush Rabbits
Summer is Ugly Duck Season, as males molt into eclipse plumage and all the duck replace their flight feathers. This Cinnamon Teal at Beal Street Wetland is best identified by his shape.

Happy Summer

Shorebirds at Tualatin River NWR

Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge has been good for southbound shorebirds this summer. Early in the season, the Long-billed Dowitchers were still sporting their breeding plumage.

At this point, most of the dowitchers have molted into winter plumage.

Normally seen later in the fall, a few Pectoral Sandpipers have made an appearance at the refuge.

Up to three young Wilson’s Phalaropes were at the refuge this summer.

Least Sandpiper

Greater Yellowlegs are one of the more common, and more vocal, of the migrant shorebirds.

Lesser Yellowlegs are harder to find, but have been reliable at the refuge this summer.

Occasionally, the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs will pose together for a nice comparison.

This Wilson’s Snipe made an unusual appearance out in the open.

Shorebird migration lasts through October, but the water at the refuge typically dries up before then. We’ll see how recent restoration efforts affect water levels this year.

Happy summer

Penstemon Prairie

Grasshopper Sparrows are rare everywhere in Oregon, so Portland area birders got quite excited when several of these birds were found at a small prairie restoration site just south of Fernhill Wetlands. Penstemon Prairie is a not an established park, but it is open to the public, and the agency responsible for the site mowed a path around the perimeter to make walking and birding this site easy.

The morning of my visit, it didn’t take long to find a couple Grasshopper Sparrows. They always positioned themselves to be backlit, and I didn’t want to trample the habitat to get a better position, so I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.

A blurry, backlit Grasshopper Sparrow, singing the songs of their people

Lazuli Buntings were more cooperative in the lighting department.

Lazuli Bunting in morning light. Check out the wear on her tail feathers, probably from nesting.

A distant male Lazuli Bunting

Common Yellowthroats are common in this habitat, but they seldom pose out in the open.

Savannah Sparrow, whose song can be quite similar to that of Grasshopper Sparrow

Another Savannah Sparrow. This early morning light is known as Golden Hour. A lot of photographers seek out this lighting, as it is softer than what you find later in the day, but I don’t like the yellow cast it puts on everything.

Happy Summer

East Side Birds

I don’t get east of the Cascade Crest nearly as often as I would like. It is nice to get a change in habitats and birds, especially in mid-summer, when bird activity on the west side slows down.

This Burrowing Owl was hanging out on a fence post just north of Fort Rock. In this photo they were keeping an eye on a Prairie Falcon that was soaring overhead.

I spent a little time at the water feature at Cabin Lake Campground, where large flocks of Red Crossbills came down to drink. This is an adult female.

This juvenile female has some yellow blotches coming in.

This young male has some red coming in. I didn’t see any mature males that day.

Cassin’s Finch is another species commonly found at the water feature at Cabin Lake.

Cassin’s Finch, showing the distinct red cap and the striped back

I recently made the trip to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. One seldom sees a great variety of birds here, but the alpine tundra above the lodge always has some goodies, like this Horned Lark.

Mountain Bluebird against a blue sky

The Clark’s Nutcrackers near Timberline are surprisingly shy. This one posed briefly for a portrait.

Happy Summer

Random Rodents

I have run across some photogenic rodents this year. While they don’t qualify as “charismatic mega-fauna,” some of them are quite stunning.

This is either a Yellow-pine Chipmunk or a Least Chipmunk. Apparently, you can only differentiate the two by measuring their skulls. I am leaning toward Yellow-pine on this one, as some sources say that Yellow-Pine Chipmunk tends to be more colorful than Least, and this individual was found in a grove of Yellow (Ponderosa) Pines.

As you can see, this individual has a lot more gray, with just a touch of rufous on the sides. The habitat was open sage steppe, so maybe Least Chipmunk?

It is slightly out of focus, but I love this image of a Belding’s Ground Squirrel peeking over a rock.

Here is a better view of a Belding’s Ground Squirrel.

Belding’s Ground Squirrel portrait

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel in the morning sun

Yellow-bellied Marmot, high up on Mount Hood

Back on the west side of the state, this Douglas’s Squirrel make a brief appearance in the back yard.

Here is a California Ground Squirrel up in an Oregon White Oak. So, two of the three words in his name are incorrect in this case.

Yes, I know that rabbits are not rodents, but I can’t resist a cute bunny, in this case, a Mountain Cottontail.

Back to birds next time, unless something more interesting comes up.

Happy Summer

Fort Rock

I had the chance to visit Fort Rock State Park recently. This is a U-shaped rock formation (formerly a volcanic island in the middle of a huge lake) surrounded by sage steppe. This site is a lovely sample of high rimrock and sagebrush habitats, attractive to a nice selection of birds and other wildlife.

Loggerhead Shrikes were some of the more frequently encountered birds within the crater.

Baby Loggerhead Shrike. Note the yellow gape and the fine barring everywhere

Sagebrush Sparrow is reliable here, as is Brewer’s Sparrow, although the Brewer’s did not let me get close enough for a photo.

Green-tailed Towhees were surprisingly shy, only allowing distant views.

This California Quail was hanging out in the parking lot.

Here are four of the TWENTY-SEVEN baby California Quail I saw along a narrow trail. Baby quail can fly, and were flushing all around me.

I was really hoping to find some herps on this trip, but my luck with reptiles has been terrible this year. I did manage to find four Northern Scorpions, which is pretty neat, but I would have much preferred a few snakes and lizards.

Happy summer

Gilchrist Crossing

Located about 45 miles south of Bend, OR, Gilchrist Crossing (the eBird hotspot name) is best known as one of the few sites to reliably find Northern Waterthrush in Oregon. It is a brushy site along the Little Deschutes River at the edge of the forest.

On my recent visit, one of the more common species was Yellow Warbler. Many of the birds at this site, including the Northern Waterthrush, were deep in heavy cover, so being able to recognize songs is essential.

Looking west on the gravel road, with thick brush and water on both sides. To the east is a nice stand of forest.

This is “the bridge,” the farthest you can safely walk to the west. On the other side of the river is a large sawmill operation.

Song Sparrow singing from the top of a small pine

Yellow Pine Chipmunks are common along this stretch of road.

Getting there: Do not trust the directions that your navigation system may give you. Phone service is fine, so you can see where you are on your phone and follow the road that way.

From US 97 in Gilchrist, turn east onto Mountain View Drive (at the liquor store). Turn right onto Hillcrest Street and follow it to its end at a gravel road. Turn left onto the gravel road (Gilchrist Haul Road on some maps, but there are no signs) and follow it north for about 1.4 miles, where it curves left to go under the highway. Follow the road through the forest for less than half a mile. When the gravel turns from gray to red, park you car and walk in the rest of the way.

Mosquitos can be pretty brutal at this site, so be prepared. The gravel road was in very good shape, as of July 2022, and fine for a passenger car. While Northern Waterthrush is the star of this site, don’t neglect the dry forest habitat nearby.